The decade of the 50’s was a special period for the short story in science fiction. Numerous magazines provided outlets for both established and new writers. One of the results of this, was women entering the field in unprecedented numbers. While it is true that there had been women writers in the pulp era of the 30’s and 40’s, most notably Leigh Brackett and C. L. Moore, they had been the exception, not the rule. In the 50’s, their numbers, if not exploded, at least increased dramatically.
A number of factors contributed to this. One was certainly the fact that women were attending college in much larger numbers than in the period before World War II. This provided a pool of educated and literate women with a desire to express themselves. A second factor was that the genre, itself had changed. Under editors such as John W, Campbell and H. L. Gold, science fiction had evolved from being dominated by action and adventure to being a genre of ideas. This helped to attract women to the field.
This is not to say that the eighteen authors presented in this volume formed some organized women’s movement. They are much too varied a group of authors for that. They encompass a vast spread of ages and experience level. A few had been writing in other genres, primarily mysteries, for decades, while for others, the story included here is their first, and often only, offering in the field.
This latter fact is interesting in and of itself. A third of the writers in this group had long careers with a substantial body of work, another third only had published one or two stories, while the rest fell somewhere in between with seven to twenty stories published during their writing days. I don’t think that these statistics are unique to women. It’s always been a struggle to establish oneself as a working writer. No doubt many aspiring authors grew discouraged as the rejection slips piled up and dropped out of the field.
The subject matter and themes of the stories aren’t that different than that of their male contemporaries. Several themes show up in a number of stories. One is that of the alien among us. This was, after all, the period of cold war paranoia and McCarthyism. Going from a “red menace” to a “green menace” is not a big stretch. Another idea is that of a post apocalypse world. Again, the cold war and the Bomb were on everyone’s mind.
Several of the stories deal with the next step in human evolution and how the new species will interact with the old. If the new species is rare, they might not even realize that there are others of their kind. If the new species has become dominant, what happens to the few remaining individuals of the old?
The last, and perhaps most interesting theme is that of human-alien interaction, either with aliens arriving on Earth, or with Terrans exploring the Galaxy. It is a situation fraught with possibilities for error and misunderstanding; or humor.
This latter characteristic is certainly not missing from this volume. Indeed, it is the hallmark of several of the more successful writers, Evelyn E. Smith in particular, who had a talent for drawing out the humorous from the most dire situations.
If one can draw any generalities about the writers in this book, it is that their work is more likely to deal with domestic situations than would be true for a comparable group of male writers, but this is by no means true for all of the stories included here.
The 50’s were an important era in the history of science fiction, and there is no question that women played an important part in that history. Unfortunately, with the passage of time, many of the lesser known authors, of either gender, tend to get forgotten and their works unavailable or hard to find. With this in mind, Resurrected Press has brought together this collection of the works of eighteen of the women writers of this period so that the reader may judge for themselves their contribution.
A brief note about the sources for the biographical material included with each stories. The bulk of it was drawn from either Wikipedia or the Internet Speculative Fiction Database (www.isfdb.org). The latter, in particular, was of great value in determining the course of each author’s writing career. Unfortunately, for far to many of these authors, there is no information readily available other than the existence of the stories themselves.